Early childhood – Alcohol seeps into our lives
A shotgun wedding at 16, two children by the age of 18, a family tragedy and a split from a new boyfriend cumulated in a suicide attempt by my mother when I was 5. She moved with my 7-year-old brother and I, far from our loving grandparents to an isolated house in a rural part of the country where the 3 of us were to follow a simple, ‘self-sufficient’ life.
Although she hadn’t finished her convent education after discovering the ‘facts of life’ during her first encounter with my father, my mum was intelligent and a fast learner. She was also intrepid, funny and glamorously beautiful. She set up a small-holding with chickens, geese, goats, horses and a Jersey cow and we got stuck into ‘The Good Life’.
All social life revolved around the local pub which did not allow children through the door. We started dreading the increasingly regular ‘quick drink’, being left in the tiny muddy car park without any sense of time or anything to do (no books, no radio, no lights) for hour upon hour. Sometimes someone would weave their way out with a bag of crisps but we never knew if or when that would happen. Eventually it would get to closing time and she would drive home through the dark lanes. We survived her first drink-drive accident somehow avoiding prosecution, which is probably why that didn’t deter her. She took to going to upstairs to sleep every afternoon, shouting down when we started to bicker out of boredom.
Arguments were epic and scary
Occasionally my mum would say she was going out for a bit and we would stay at home until she re-appeared. Those are my earliest memories of worry; I loved her so much. One day she left, saying she would be back soon. After what seemed like hours, I was so anxious that we took our bikes to look for her and promptly got lost. Meanwhile mum had eventually returned to the empty house, drunk and hysterical at our disappearance. Police arrived and started beating down the tall bracken surrounding our house and had patrols out looking for any sign of us as the sun started to set. A schoolgirl had been snatched and murdered in our area that year.
Friends from surrounding villages formed search parties and we were picked up and delivered home. I will never forget the drunken and unfiltered rage with which we were greeted and how frightened and confused I was as she screamed ‘You little bitch, how dare you do this to me’ and then turned and slapped my brother full across the face, in front of the police. Shortly after, I turned 6 and was told that we would start weekly boarding, funded by our desperately concerned grandfather. The school was run by fear, Victorian values and corporal punishment.
There was no escape
That same year, a visit to the pub resulted in inebriated liaisons with a young sailor home from leave and mum became pregnant. He was affable and naïve, aged 23 and we were told he was to become our step-father. His professional parents were horrified at their son’s choice and couldn’t hide their chilliness towards us but the wedding was rushed through. We moved house again (bigger, just as remote), he went back to sea, the baby was born and met her dad 6 months later. It became apparent that my sibling wasn’t the only thing they had in common. My new step-father was a binge drinker and used to disappear for days at a time, unable to cope with his sudden responsibilities, driving my mum to fury and more drink.
The arguments were epic and scary – there was no escape, no one to talk to (even if I had realised the problem) and no access to a phone. Money got tighter, the plans to add heating to the house were abandoned and we had the coldest winter on record. I didn’t understand why at the time but I was sent to a full-time boarding school an 8-hour round trip away and my grandparents moved (ironically from that same county) to live near my mother, knowing that she was struggling but not about her deepening addiction. This was the period that alcohol took a hold and started to influence the rest of my and my sibling’s futures, whilst from the outside I was seen to be a lucky, privileged child with no right to complain about a thing – so I did not.
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